Category: Guest Chef Articles

TYLER SCOTT: A YOUNG CHEF MARKS A PATH TO EXCELLENCE

TYLER SCOTT:  A YOUNG CHEF MARKS A PATH TO EXCELLENCE

New York City has been called the center of the universe. For chefs and restaurateurs it is the mecca for the best talent to be found and a place for aspiring professionals to earn their chops, refine their talent and build their personal brand. New York is also very tough on cooks. The best restaurants are in such demand by young cooks that many agree to work as a stage’, dedicating countless hours for little or no money in exchange for knowledge and a resume builder. Thousands of cooks look to cut their teeth in New York while others might enter the New York landscape having built their skill set elsewhere and now seek approval from a very discriminating dining public. There are nearly 25,000 options in the boroughs of New York for guests to find a restaurant meal – an incredible amount of competition. In this type of environment the strong survive and the weak shall perish.

I find that it is always fascinating to follow young cooks who have the passion, the commitment and the patience to set a path from learning how to cut an onion to plating some of the most sophisticated food to be found on any table. The shear dedication and determination necessary to ride the train from point A to point Z can be hard to imagine with many bumps along the way. Those who make it – deserve it.

I have had the pleasure to watch many young culinarians reach their goals and feel for even more who falter along the way leading them to seek a different career path. One who has followed his dreams and continues to impress all who know him and enjoy his food is Chef Tyler Scott. He agreed to this interview as an opportunity to demonstrate a path for others. He is an inspiration to me.

1. What or who influenced you to pursue a career in food and beverage?
“I would have to say my mother and aunt. Growing up, even though she was working full time, my mother still made time to produce bread, and pastry items from scratch as well as can jams from all the summer berries. We didn’t have many traditions or family rituals but I always looked forward to cinnamon rolls at Christmas and strawberry short cake well into long Western New York winters.
My aunt, on the other hand, taught me the importance of being specialized and that if you are liberal with the use of anything let it be butter. She only cooked three things: French toast, Snicker Doodles, and city chicken, but all of them were uniquely hers in some fashion and delicious”.
2. Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career?
“I worked for a number of talented chefs over the years but two really guided me: Brian Skelding and Michael Powell. Chef Skelding instilled the foundations of cooking in me. Then later in my career Chef Powell schooled me on management and leadership”.
3. How would others describe your style of management?
“I believe that others would describe me as being fair and understanding with a strong emphasis on educating the people we employ”.
4. Do you have a business philosophy that drives your operational decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?
“Teamwork – I strongly believe that working as part of a cohesive unit is a crucial part to being successful”.
NOTE:
Chefs quickly realize that there is less room for individualism in kitchens than one might think. There are way too many tasks to accomplish, far too many variables that can distract and enormous pressure to be ready for anything and everything to even attempt to work without the complete cohesive nature of a team. This goes beyond “teamwork” and parallels the relationship that a successful sports team would encounter. All for one and one for all is the motto that kitchens live by.
5. Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said, yes, this is what I need to do.
“My first job after graduating from Paul Smith’s College was at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. I worked more and with more intensity during my time there than I ever had before in my life, but the first time I really held down a station on the main line and felt that rush of adrenaline I was hooked”.
6. What is your pet peeve about working in the food and beverage industry?
“The never-ending debate over meat temperature correctness drives me nuts. It is comical as well as irritating, especially in an age where chefs are so popular and information so accessible. This may appear to be a small thing, but it seems impossible to find two people (cooks or guests) who can agree on what medium rare looks like”.
7. Who are your most valuable players in the operation where you currently work?
“Hands down Oscar. We have a small staff at Ze Café and it is easy to see when someone is not pulling their share. Oscar is young with no formal training prior to this job, but you can see that he understands the foundations of what makes you successful as a cook on a daily basis”.
8. If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks, bakers or hospitality students looking to make their mark in this business, what would you tell them?
“Hard work pays off – period. Also, when the time comes and someone gives you a shot – have a clear idea of what it is that you want to do and how you are going to do it”.
9. When you hire people to work in your business what traits are you looking for?
“I look for a positive outlook on life, adaptability, and a willingness to learn. A positive outlook is huge for me in the work place, I try to smile and keep a bright mind set. This attitude helps with productivity and creates a more pleasant work environment. So I try to employ people with a similar attitude”.
10. If you were not working in food and beverage, what would you choose to do for a career?
“I would choose something that would keep me in close contact with the outdoors. I am an avid fly fisherman so maybe a guide”.
11. What would you like people to know about your current business and the products that you produce or sell?

“Ze cafe is a small restaurant with a French influenced menu. We focus on freshness and quality of product. During most of the year we are privileged to receive fruits, vegetables, and eggs from our owners farm just south of Albany, New York”.

NOTE:

I had the pleasure of watching Tyler grow from his early days as a culinary student and captain of our student culinary team. Tyler’s experiences since then brought him from the Greenbrier, America’s premier American Plan Hotel to his current role as Sous Chef for Ze Café. Along the way, he followed his culinary dreams from coast to coast as defined in this bio from Ze Café website:
“Born in Buffalo New York, Chef Scott spent his pre-college years working in restaurants. Upon graduating high school he attended Culinary Arts and Service Management at Paul Smith’s College.
While at Paul Smith’s Tyler was the Co-captain on the school Cold Food Team, which received two gold and silver medals at the New York City Food Show.
Shortly after graduating he was selected for the apprenticeship program at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia where he was immersed in the world of Classical French Cuisine.
Returning home after three years, he worked as a Sous-Chef to Chef Scott Bova at The Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, NY for the summer season of 2008. The following fall, Tyler moved to Portland, Oregon where he was able to pursue his interests in farm to table dining, butchering and Charcuterie working as a Sous -Chef under Ryan Bleibtrey at Urban Farmer Restaurant.
Tyler returned to Western New York to work for Chef Jonathan Haloua at La Fleur a Four Diamond Award Restaurant in Mayville, NY. After working at La Fleur, Tyler was offered the Chef de Cuisine position at the Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club where he worked for 4 years. He returned to work with Chef Jonathan in the summer of 2013 at La Fleur and joined the Zé Café team Fall of 2013.”
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Ze Café receives exceptional reviews as a top tier French inspired restaurant in New York. The next time you are in “the city” stop in for dinner and ask for Chef Tyler. Satisfaction guaranteed! Visit their website at:

http://www.zecafe.com/

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

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JENNIFER BEACH – ALL THE WORLD LOVES A PASTRY CHEF

JENNIFER BEACH - ALL THE WORLD LOVES A PASTRY CHEF

From a very early age we are mesmerized by the smell and appearance of pastries. It would be very difficult to walk into a well-stocked bakery without a smile on your face. It is not just the intoxicating smell of sugar and butter, but even more so – the memories that go along with holding a warm pastry in your hands, peeling back the paper on a cup cake, or stabbing your fork into a light as a feather piece of cake. We can all close our eyes and stir up our aroma memory of fresh baked apple pie or a loaf of crusty artisan bread right from the oven, sliced and lathered with creamy butter.

This time of year, in particular, seems to focus on baked goods in the home, on the street, in the shopping center, and at the restaurant table. We celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah and the New Year with gingerbread houses, decorated sugar cookies, sculptured breads, lightly iced cupcakes with coconut snow, petite fours, chocolate truffles, black forest cake, and stollen. It is a right of passage that each of us over-consumes those things without guilt at a time of the year that allows this to be “the exception to the rule”. We can’t resist – we must have it.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination – pastry proficient. As a property chef I always sought out talented bakers to fill in those gaps in my resume. Now, I know great baking when I see it and taste it, but a pastry chef I am not. It always amazes me how much can be done with so few ingredients. Flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk and a leavening agent and a whole world of options open up. Unlike savory cooking (my area) where there is significant poetic license in how ingredients are combined, in what order, and using what method; in baking it is all about process, timing, and temperature. There is a science to baking that I guess I never had the patience or aptitude for – just an appreciation for the end products.

Pastry work, like some types of cooking, attracts many frustrated artists. People who have an innate talent for structure, detail, color and texture. There are many pastry chefs who could find a home for their sculpture and pastry painting skills using museum mediums, but choose to work with materials that can be appreciated for short periods of time and then consumed. They prefer their art lovers to press their noses against the pastry case rather than stand behind a velvet rope and simply admire, but don’t touch.

As a chef, knowing that your pastry department is under the wings of a passionate, talented, smiling artist is parallel to a quarterback knowing that his wide receivers are always ready for that catch that puts the game in the bag. Great bread and desserts in a restaurant can put that dining experience over the top. The guest will likely remember that fabulous dessert much longer than the entrée.

I know many great bakers and pastry chefs, those individuals who set the olfactory tempo in a kitchen and push everyone else to keep up with plate presentations and finishing touches. Sometimes these stars of the kitchen knew what they wanted to do from a very early age and sometimes they fell into that role. One of those fabulous pastry chefs that I call “friend” is Jennifer (Bennett) Beach. Jenn is now the Director of Baking for “Popovers on the Square” with another one of my pastry hero’s: Certified Master Baker, Steve James. My connections with Jennifer go back many years when she started as a student enrolled in Culinary Arts at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks and then later as the number 2-pastry person at the Balsam’s Resort in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.

Jennifer has agreed to this interview as an opportunity to share parts of her story and maybe inspire others to pursue a career in the bakeshop.

1. What or who influenced you to pursue a career in the kitchen or bakeshop?
When I was freshman in high school I signed up to take Spanish, but was bumped to Culinary Arts, as the Spanish class was full…. I was really upset, until I found out what Culinary Arts actually was.
At first I did not like the class as the instructor was tough, demanding and made us learn about knife skills, sanitation, ingredients and was all book work, etc.
It took me a bit to realize why she didn’t let us in the kitchen for a few months. The class size dropped by more than half, as many dropped it thinking the class was ‘lame’. I’m really glad I stuck with it because once we had the fundamentals down, she allowed us in the kitchen to cook and bake based on the unit we were studying. This was her way of weeding out those that thought it would be an easy credit. She wanted serious students. By the end of the school year, I knew that I wanted to be a chef.

2. Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career?
At Paul Smith’s I had the opportunity to learn from the instructor’s there. Paul Sorgule was instrumental in helping me secure an internship at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, NH. I had hoped to work as a line cook, but the only open spots they had were in the hotels Bakeshop.
I worked under Master Baker Chef Stephen James for one winter season and realized the bakeshop was where I wanted to be, not the hot line. I worked at the hotel for 14 years, honing my pastry skills and had the opportunity to travel the country during the ‘off seasons’ to work in other large resorts and clubs during their busy time. It was the best learning experience ever, almost like an apprenticeship.

I have been working with Steve James now for over 20 years.

What style of cooking or baking best portrays your passion?
Our style, at Popovers on the Square is simply food that tastes good, presentation is important, but if it doesn’t taste good, what was the point of the fancy garnish? To me there is nothing worse than a beautifully stunning wedding cake that is dry without flavor.

Do you have a food philosophy that drives your menu decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?
We try to bring in the best possible ingredients, follow proper procedures and fundamentals to produce a product that is of high quality and consistent. If it is not right, “DON’T SERVE IT”. We all make mistakes, but we cannot sell or serve them. The loss in food cost is not worth the loss in customer loyalty. We also need to be aware of what our customers want.

3. Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said, yes, this is what I need to do.

I’m not really sure there is one experience or event…. it was more about things just falling into place… ending up in the culinary class in high school, ending up working in the bakery instead of the hot line…it almost seems like it was fate….

4. What is your pet peeve about working in restaurants?
It would have to be the amount of time spent away from family and friends over the years. Our families really pay a price for our career choice. I’m lucky that my immediate family understands and since my husband is also in the industry, our kids know nothing else….

5. Who are your most valuable players in the restaurant or bakery where you currently work?
In our company (Popovers on the Square) we have 18 pastry chefs and bakers in three different locations. I am so proud to lead them all.
I cannot name one as an MVP, as I believe I have an MVT, most valuable team. It takes everyone to run the day-to-day production and deliveries. They each have job to do and I hold each of them accountable for that job. My team leaders are Katie Green, Hannah Joy Waechter and Jason Perry.

6. If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks and bakers looking to make their mark in kitchens, what would you tell them?
First, learn the basic fundamentals of baking. Mixing methods, time and temperature controls and measurements. Know your ingredients-where do they come from and how do they work in a formula. Be humble and find a mentor. Find someone willing to teach and train, this needs to continue long after schooling. Keep your head down, but your eyes and ears open. Watch what others are doing around you. Taste everything and use your sense of smell. Each time you bake that pan of brownies, really take in the smell and aroma when they are finished baking. If you are in tune to that, you will be amazed at how many things you ‘save’ when a timer was not set.

7. When you hire people to work in your kitchen what traits are you looking for?
I hire people that I like. I need people on my team who want to be there to better themselves, not just someone looking for a “job”. I hire people that have a ‘whatever it takes attitude’. I’m looking for maturity, responsibility, punctuality and professionalism. I have a zero tolerance for profanity in the bakeshop. I expect my team to be respectful of the bakeshop, the ingredients and each other. I tell everyone I hire: “if you do your job and work hard each day, I will teach you all that I know”.

8. If you were not cooking or baking, what would you choose to do for a career?
I have often thought of this question and I’m not really sure how to answer it. I always thought it would be fun to work in a greenhouse or garden center, which is funny because I can’t keep a houseplant alive for more than a year. Ha, ha.

9. What would you like people to know about your current restaurant/bakery and the food that you produce?

The original Popovers opened in 2006. We took over the commissary facility in 2010 from a sister company and in August just opened our second Popovers location. In September we began an extensive renovation of our wholesale facility. The owners John Tinios and Steve James are committed to hospitality at its best. They have built a great company and I’m proud to help them run it.

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A few words about popovers (the product): Unlike other baked goods, the only leavening agent in popovers is steam. Making sure that you do not over-mix your simple ingredients of eggs, milk, salt, oil and flour and insuring that your pans and oil are very hot will allow this magical concoction to seal and immediately begin to rise in the pan forming a crust while growing to 2-3 times the height of the muffin or popover pan. Making sure to not prematurely open the oven, giving a small poke to the top of the popover, allowing steam to escape and finishing in the oven until they are set and dry will leave you with one of the most incredible treats.

Serving them hot with lots of butter and jam or if you prefer to use them for savory applications- drippings from a roast beef, will typically leave the consumer speechless.

Popovers are actually an America version of the English Yorkshire pudding. American settlers referred to Popovers and Yorkshire Pudding in the following fashion:

“Yorkshire Pudding, a fortunate blunder: It’s a sort of popover that turned and popped under.”

I vividly remember the numerous times that I dined at Anthony’s Pier IV in Boston (seats something like 1,000 people), home to the famous restaurateur Anthony Athanas (worked in the restaurant until he was in his 90’s), and enjoying more than anything else the popover server who walked the dining room with a warmer, freely passing out popovers to diners. This was New England hospitality in full motion.

With regards to the importance of pastry, I find this quote most appropriate:

Brillat-Savarin’s great aunt, on her deathbed stated how important pastry chefs were to her when she said: “I feel the end is approaching. Quick bring me my dessert, coffee and liqueur.”

What has always impressed me about pastry chef Jennifer Beach is not just her talent and passion but the fact that she has always seemed perpetually happy. She truly loves what she does and the impact that her products have on others.

If you would like to view more about Popovers on the Square, visit their website at:

http://www.popoversonthesquare.com

or better yet, visit their bakeries in the following towns:

Popovers on the Square – Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Popovers at Brickyard Square – Epping, New Hampshire

Ask for Jennifer!

*The picture is of the pastry case at Popovers on the Square. Jennifer wanted their work to speak for itself.

KEVIN O’DONNELL – “Put me in coach – I’m ready to play”

Lawrence A. Appley, author of numerous management articles and texts, once stated: “he who can manage, can manage anything”. This statement assumes that management skills are transferrable from business to business and from industry to industry. Through my experience I would beg to differ and this has been proven out time and time again as highly successful leaders move from one company to another and experience significant failure. Management of any business requires a deep understanding of the product, the work environment, the people who work in those environments and the customers whom they serve. Leadership, on the other hand, is transferrable because leadership involves an ability to understand how to create environments for people who have the requisite skills to self-motivate. Leaders transform great employees into competent managers in their respective disciplines by setting them on a path of growth and success. You can lead a business without having the depth of knowledge that a manager must possess, but I find it difficult to imagine the opposite.

On rare occasions leaders can be great managers when their focus is the development of people while constantly working at understanding the business they are in, the make up of people who perform on a daily basis, and the dynamic of the guest who pays for the product or service. When this happens, that person is sought out by many for advice and expertise and the professional opportunities that come their way continues to blossom. Kevin O’Donnell is a person with solid management skills in the area of hospitality and the leadership savvy that allows him to wear many hats, walk into varied opportunities, and do so with a high level of success.

Kevin is, in the State of Vermont, one of the most respected hospitality professionals. His background in recent years includes: Director of Operations for Shelburne Farms, Innkeeper at The Old Tavern at Grafton, Vice President of Food Operations at New England Culinary Institute, a member of the Vermont Fresh Network Board of Directors, active member of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, faculty member at SUNY Cobleskill, part of the management team at Hunger Mountain Coop and Principal of Llenroc Consulting. There were many positions prior to this string of success that rumor has it includes food operations at a major convention center and even manager of a dude ranch out west. His career track would certainly make for a very interesting hospitality business version of John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie”.

Kevin has agreed to this interview as a way to lay out the opportunities for others who seek the chance to be decision makers, move a business forward and at the same time inspire others to reach their potential.

1. What or who influenced you to pursue a career in food and beverage?

“Like most people who enter the hospitality business I started off with a simple need for a job with a paycheck. I washed dishes and was involved in some food prep. The desire and passion started to bubble inside of me when I was ready to contemplate going to college and thus decided to attend culinary school.”

2. Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career?

“Four individuals became my mentors: Cole Barnard and Stan Nevins from SUNY Cobleskill as well as Dean Robert Beck and Richie Moran from Cornell University.”

“These four individuals put me on the path that I have pursued my entire life. As a student at Cobleskill; Cole Barnard was the dean of the newly formed culinary program and as fate would have it a Cornell Hotel School graduate himself. His intuitive sense coupled with that of head Lacrosse coach Stan Nevins resulted in a scheme to have me attend Cornell. Why is this important to bring up? Well, I was a good student and an all-American junior college lacrosse player approaching graduation. I had been accepted to either enter into a European full-blown culinary apprenticeship or go to another SUNY school and pursue a degree in an unrelated field. At the 11th hour unbeknownst to me, Dean Barnard and Coach Nevins applied to Cornell for me (back in those days we did not have the privacy issues we have today and they could literally fill out the entire application). I was processed and notified by the head lacrosse coach that I had been accepted to Cornell. You can only imagine my surprise!!!! In addition, they offered me a full scholarship to boot! So my next decision would ultimately change my life…go to Europe and start an apprenticeship that was a contractual agreement for seven years or go to Cornell for four years. The epiphany was crystal clear, run a kitchen in a hotel or run the entire hotel. I chose the later. Cole Barnard and Coach Nevins saw something in me at the age of seventeen that sent me into my life’s passion. At Cornell Both Dean Beck and Coach Moran nurtured my passion, helped me get through some difficult times and continued to push me to become the person I am today. Without those four individuals I’m not sure I would even be in this business today. “

3. How would others describe your style of management?

“Because of my athletic career, I would say that I am more a coach than a traditional manager. I have enjoyed a great deal of success with this style and note that there are many similarities between what happens on a playing field and what happens in the hospitality business.”

4. Do you have a business philosophy that drives your operational decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?

“I believe in doing the “right thing”. This is not always the easiest way to operate, but it is always pretty obvious. Couple this with the fact that the hospitality business is all about service and the result should always be: choose your attitude, do the right thing and provide the best service possible.”

5. Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said: “yes, this is what I need to do”. “I remember the first time I went to the NYC Hotel Show in the old Coliseum and visiting the food competition with all the incredibly talented chefs displaying their works of art…. It was simply stunning and it confirmed my passion .The following year I won a gold medal as a student competing in the show.”

6. What is your pet peeve about working in the food and beverage industry?

“My pet peeve is that so many folks who enter the hospitality industry are only passing through and do not have the same passion and love for the business that I do. The classic line is “I’m only doing this until I get…” fill in the blank, and therefore do not have the same commitment as I do. My second pet peeve is not cooking food the way the customer wants it! Hell, if a customer wants a burnt T-bone steak and likes it that way and is willing to pay the going price…cook it the way they want!!! Unfortunately, a typical comment from the chef is: it’s an insult to my culinary talents….Hell, do you think the customer really cares about what you think of yourself?”

7. Who are the most valuable players in the operations where you currently work?

“Always the hourly employees with the dishwasher being one of those individuals often overlooked. As a manager I am only as good as my hourly staff.”

8. If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks, bakers or hospitality students looking to make their mark in this business, what would you tell them?

“This is a hard business and either you LOVE this or you are not in it. If you don’t love making people happy this is not the business for you.”

9. When you hire people to work in your business what traits are you looking for?

“Personally, I look for soft skills, those that allow folks to be successful through communication and being a team player. Great attitudes are critical. I believe people with great attitudes are very coachable and can absorb what I have to offer as a manager.”

10. If you were not working in food and beverage, what would you choose to do for a career?

“I would be a lacrosse coach.”

11. What would you like people to know about your current business and the products or services that you produce or sell?

“As a consultant, I have an opportunity to coach and assist operations and professionals and in the process it’s important to be true to personal values, do the right thing and most often it’s about informing my client about what they do not want to hear. That’s the job of a consultant.”

This is what a few colleagues had to say about Kevin as a manager, coach and leader:

Thomas Bivins
Chef/Partner at CROP VT Bistro & Brewery
“Kevin was an excellent director of operations and very focused on the development of his staff. He has great customer service instincts and skills. He was often hard to work with because he pushed his staff to think outside of the box and work harder. I am a better senior manager because of his work with me. I highly recommend working with him.
March 25, 2009, Thomas reported to Kevin G. at The Old Tavern at Grafton.”

Reid Greenberg
Head of Digital Strategy at Seventh Generation
“I’ve known Kevin for over five years and have had the pleasure to work with him on several co-branded marketing initiatives. His knowledge of “Brand Vermont,” dedication to the end customer, and ability to manage his team are top-tiered. As a leader in the hospitality industry, The Old Tavern is extremely lucky to have him, as is the state of Vermont.
January 1, 2009, Reid was with another company when working with Kevin G. at The Old Tavern at Grafton.”

I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Kevin for more than 25 years. From those early days when he was Director of Operations at Shelburne Farms I always referred to Kevin as the type of manager and leader that served as a role model for others. From 2008-2012 I had the opportunity to work side-by-side with Kevin at New England Culinary Institute. It was in this capacity that I recognized Kevin’s desire and innate ability to coach others from students to operational staff and inspire them to be all that they could be. He is the consummate hotelier and leader.

**The picture on this post is of Kevin O’Donnell with a friend and Cornell Classmate, the prominent New York restaurateur: Drew Nieporent – Myriad Restaurant Group.

To learn more about Kevin O’Donnell and the operations that he has been a part of, visit these websites:
Vermont Fresh Network
http://www.vermontfresh.net/

Shelburne Farms
http://www.shelburnefarms.org/‎

The Old Inn at Grafton
http://www.graftoninnvermont.com/

Hunger Mountain Coop
http://hungermountain.coop/

Llenroc Consulting
http://www.linkedin.com/in/llenroc

The Life of Jack Edwards – A Meal Without Wine is Like a Day Without Sunshine

The Life of Jack Edwards - A Meal Without Wine is Like a Day Without Sunshine

Behind every great restaurant wine list is a team (sometimes just one person) with the passion for wine, depth of knowledge about the product, interest in chefs and connections throughout the wine and food world necessary to make that restaurants cellars stand out. Understanding the process of making, valuing, thoroughly tasting and pairing wine can take a lifetime to master. Those who appreciate great wine understand the role of the sommelier in top end restaurants, but even those refined “experts” need to lean on the true masters behind the scene; the individuals who touch the grapes, communicate with winemakers, take part in the blending process with owners and travel the world to create partnerships with distributors and restaurateurs in an effort to build a wines brand. These “ambassadors” for wine have made wine their lives. These are the spokespeople whom everyone in the wine industry truly listens to, the ones who help restaurants shine with those perfect pairings.

The job is not easy and requires years of study, an exceptional palette, a worldly persona, and a Rolodex of connections that would be the envy of any food professional. The individuals who have made wine marketing and wine knowledge their calling are only known to those people who depend on their skill set to bask in the restaurant headlines. Behind every great chef, restaurateur and sommelier are these troubadours of wine, the walking and talking “live” Wikipedia sources of wine knowledge, the marketers of the vineyard.

I imagine there are very few people who at an early age decide that wine will be their calling (unless of course you are born into a wine family). More often than not, they fall into this role by first having an interest or career in restaurants or maybe even agriculture (wine is, after all an agricultural product). To be truly successful, these individuals will need a very responsive palette, just like the best chefs. It is this ability to pick out the small nuances of flavor and taste that set both exceptional chefs and exceptional wine professionals apart from the rest of us.

Like chefs, these wine professionals lead a life that has its glamorous moments but through far too many weeks of 100 or so hours, takes its toll. These professionals have chosen to pay this price and must have understanding families and friends as a result. This type of commitment goes with the turf. The vineyard ambassadors do get to travel to places that most serious food people would give their right arm to see, but those who have had to travel for work, waiting in airports, moving from hotel to hotel, and dining solely on restaurant food know that even this can become a less than positive experience. Yet, without these dedicated ambassadors, your favorite restaurant wine list would lose its sparkle.

Jack Edwards is the consummate vineyard ambassador. Currently the Vice President of Sales at Somerston Wine Company in the Napa Valley. Prior to taking on this position, Jack held a similar job with Miner Family Vineyards just down the road. Jack held this position for 16 years before moving to Somerston. I have known Jack for decades; first as a hospitality student at Paul Smith’s College and then through our wine and restaurant connections over the years. Jack agreed to this interview so that you might better understand the dynamics of this position and the important role that wine plays in the restaurant business throughout the world.

1. What or who influenced you to pursue a career in food and beverage?
“Anthony Knapp Paul Smith’s College Alum and former owner of the Black Horse Inn of Mendham, New Jersey”. Anthony Knapp bought the 18th century Black Horse Tavern in 1965 and ran it for 42 years. He was known by many as Mr. Hospitality and was able to continue the reputation of this property as the restaurant “where everyone knew your name”. The property was sold in 2007.

2. Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career?
“I had a few mentors but the one who stands out is an old boss from Marriott named Joe Cozza who encouraged me to pursue a career in the beverage field.”

3. How would others describe your style of management?
“Probably laid back. Maybe sometimes too laid back, but generally effective.”

It is interesting how some people do not see themselves as strong as they are simply because they are kind and calm. My experiences with Jack (granted I did not work for him) were that through his calm demeanor it was easy to sense his competence and the respect that others had for his approach. This is a trait that so many managers are unable to master.

4. Do you have a business philosophy that drives your operational decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?
“Wine business is generally a social business. I try and establish great relationships and try to work with my distributors and customers as a team. There are a lot of good wines on the market. Buyers prefer to work with people they like and trust.”

Trust, as we all well know is not easy to achieve. Trust is built on actions not talk and those who are able to deliver what they promise will always attract followers. This “trust factor” is something that comes through loud and clear from all who work with Jack.

5. Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said, yes, this is what I need to do.
“For me it was a wine I tasted that changed my mind about my future. I was working an event and tasted a 1980 Simi Reserve Cabernet that changed my mind about wine. It was an experience that I won’t forget. It was a pretty good wine but the first I ever tasted that made me say wow!”

6. What is your pet peeve about working in the food and beverage industry?
“Sommeliers that buy wine that they like instead of what their customers are looking for.”

7. Who are your most valuable players in the operation where you currently work? “The Vineyard manager and Winemaker: without them we have nothing.”

Stephen Brook stated it very clearly in his book: Wine People, Vendome Press: “ Wine is more than a business, it is a culture that binds together the aristocrat and the peasant, the producer wedded to his soil and the sharp-eyed city merchant, the cautious grower and the extravagant consumer. It is a major source of conviviality. A raised glass can bring down, if only temporarily, national boundaries. Wine unites continuity and flux. It remains essentially the same product enjoyed on the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains and around the Mediterranean shores four thousand years ago and yet it is constantly evolving, steadily improving in overall quality and gradually shifting in style to meet the supposed tastes and expectations of consumers. That is what makes wine so fascinating a topic. A simple product of nature, the fruit of the vine, it is none the less molded by humankind. No two vintages are identical, giving wine its infinite variety, and even the most skilled oenologist needs to adapt his techniques from year to year to extract the very best that the vintage has to offer.”

This is why Jack’s response is so true, simple and to the point. Somerston wines are a reflection of the person growing the grapes and the skill each year of Craig Becker; Miner wines are a reflection of that uniquely different skill set of Gary Brookman and the palette of Dave Miner. Jack added: “I am lucky to have Craig as both winemaker and vineyard manager and that he and Dave both provided me with a great product to make friends with.” These are the craftsmen who place their gift of wine in the hands of ambassadors like Jack Edward’s to respect and introduce to others.

8. If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks, bakers or hospitality students looking to make their mark in this business, what would you tell them?
“I would tell chefs to learn a little about wine. It can change the way your food tastes; sometimes the impact is good, sometimes not. The real challenge is to know why.” The wine list in a restaurant should never be independent of the food menu. Both should be designed with the other in mind thus the importance of wine knowledge to the chef and food knowledge to the sommelier. Appropriate wine makes the food experience better.

9. When you hire people to work in your business what traits are you looking for?
“People in the wine business must be energetic, passionate and easy to like”. The truth of the matter is that in sales, a decision to buy is based to a large degree on likeability. More often than not, the purchasing decision is made at the point when the sales person introduces him/herself and shakes your hand.

10. If you were not working in food and beverage, what would you choose to do for a career?
“Golf course management.”

This is another business that requires a keen sense of hospitality, a high level of competence, and likeability.

11. What would you like people to know about your current business and the products that you produce or sell?
“Since Somerston Wine Company is new, I would just like people to taste the wines: they speak for themselves. We produce sustainably grown, hillside vineyard wines from Napa Valley.”

“The Somerston property is the foundation of everything we do. The property is 1628 acres of natural beauty, with over 200 acres of sustainably farmed vineyards, winery, and a developing ranch and farm Our two valleys are split by the highest point on Sage Canyon Road, topping out at almost 2800 feet in elevation, the valley floors rest at 800 feet above sea level. Somerston is 8 miles east of Rutherford east of the Chiles Valley appellation in Napa Valley. Its diverse soils, microclimates, and exposures are perfect for growing world-class grapes. This remarkable property has several spring fed lakes, natural soda springs, and several acres dedicated to farming of fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, and gardens.”
from Somerston Webpage

“Jack’s extensive national and international experience at Miner Family Winery will allow him to facilitate our growth plans and elevate the level of service and support to our distributors, wholesalers and importers,” noted Becker. “Jack’s extensive contacts and long-term relationships will increase market awareness of our brands. He is very well regarded throughout the industry and we share similar values. I am truly excited to welcome Jack to our team!”
Craig Becker, winemaker at Somerston
Although Somerston Wine Company produces and distributes a full portfolio of wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Pinot Noir; it is their Cabernet Sauvignon that Jack proclaims as their signature wine.

The beauty of Facebook is the ability to follow friends and acquaintances through various stages of their professional and personal lives. I look forward to the posts from Jack as he travels the world bringing the message of wine to others. He may be in Japan this week, France the next, New York City shortly afterward, on to the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, Aspen and then back on an international flight to China. His bucket list of great restaurants is far broader than mine and he is progressing through that list at a much faster rate than I.As an ambassador, this is the price to pay.

If you are interested in wine, visit the websites of Somerston Wines and his previous employer: Miner Family Vineyards.

http://www.somerstonwineco.com

http://www.minerwines.com

Chef Jody Winfield – THE CHEF FOUND HIS CALLING

Chef Jody Winfield - THE CHEF FOUND HIS CALLING

I can’t remember who said it originally, however I have stated for years that individuals do not find a career in the kitchen, it finds them. There are hundreds of examples of chefs who when asked about how they decided to choose this profession basically said that they stumbled into it and then found their passion. It is rare that those who are successful began with a “light bulb moment” that allowed them to state, unequivocally, that they were going to be chefs. It seems that more often than not an individual winds up taking a job in a kitchen to make a few dollars, picks up a class here or there to fill in a curriculum, experiences an extraordinary food event or shares time with a friend in the business and then the hook is set.

Trying not to generalize, I can state that my experiences in culinary education would support that some of the best students are the ones who came to a college after the hook had been set by working for an inspirational chef, pushing racks through a dish machine, peeling onions in a busy operation, or being given the opportunity to work the fry station after spending a few summers mopping floors and unloading supplies from a vendors truck. When these byproducts of the restaurant environment find their way to a college program, or sometimes simply stay on the “school of hard knocks” track, they arrive with the fire, enthusiasm, and commitment to go the distance and make the business their home away from home.

Quite often, the individuals who excel in the kitchen or the kitchen classroom may not have been the most committed students in high school, but when that hook is firmly placed in their career jaw, they produce exceptional results. People are good at what they love to do. One cannot over-estimate the importance of passion for a subject or a profession. In the case of those who find that “love” we commonly refer to their choice as more than a career, it is a calling. The best chefs, the most successful restaurateurs, the restaurants that attract the biggest “buzz” are flush with individuals who have found their calling, or it has found them.

Today’s guest chef post is from Jody Winfield, Executive Chef/Proprietor at Bone Island Grill in Eatonton, Georgia. A career in the kitchen found Jody, as it has so many others, and as a result this chef has developed a reputation for excellence that is matched by his passion for food, service and creativity. He has agreed to this interview so that others might share in his enthusiasm, and stay open to the chance that a culinary career might just find them as well.

1. What or who influenced you to pursue a career in the kitchen? “When I was in high school, I had an opportunity to go to a local tech school for an open house. At the time, I looked at it as a chance to get out of some classes. After looking at the course guide, I decided to go to the culinary arts program based solely on the fact that they were sure to have some food for us. (They did) While at this open house, I learned I could take cooking as an elective, and get out of school for a half a day for my junior and senior year to cook every day. I will be honest, at the time I wasn’t thinking about pursuing a career. I was figuring I could eat lunch there every day, and I could use my lunch money to do other things. Little did I know at the time how much that class would change my life and lead me to where I am today. The professor was Kevin Lucy. He was a former restaurant/bar owner who, like many, wanted to settle down and start a family. He was the one who brought to my attention that I was naturally talented, and should look into going to a culinary college. He referred me to Paul Smiths, and his influence was solely the reason for me attending Paul Smiths. I know that I wasn’t his favorite student, but he took me aside and let me believe that I could have a future cooking.“
2. Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career? “I found most of my mentoring came from my years at Paul Smiths College. I have great respect for all of the chefs I learned from there. I tried to take away as much as I could. I remember talking with a student who chose PSC along with me from the same tech school and expressing how I was amazed at the wealth of knowledge that was shared. I never knew about the history, or the prestige behind culinary arts and the restaurant industry. I drew inspiration from the stories, shared by all the chefs, of their days as young culinarians and the steps they took to become the leaders they were. I will say making the culinary team in college was a huge confidence boost for me, and led me to believe in myself. I’ve worked for a few great chefs out in the industry. Bruce Bartz was executive chef of the Country Club of the South when I started there. I had just moved to Georgia from New Hampshire. I took the job as chef tournant in January 1999. From there, I was promoted to sous chef and later took his job as Executive Chef. I was only 23 at the time, and in the conversation we had when he told me about his resignation he told me that cooking is the easy part of the job. Oh, how those words rang true back then, as they still do today. He wrote me a letter titled “A Chef is many things.” In that letter were some great tips on what a chef is and has to be to lead a team to a successful operation. It’s a letter I still have today. I wish I had more time to learn from him, he was a great leader and loved to teach cooking. I’d like to say I filled the big shoes he left behind, but the stiff cocktail of ignorance and arrogance had me fall flat on my face. Never the less I had some good experience, and a long list of the “what not to do’s”.

Another great chef I was fortunate to spend 3 years under was Tom Warrell. I was hired as his sous chef at St. Ives Country Club. This was back in 2008 at the beginning of the recession. With budget cuts and layoffs, we found ourselves alone, supervising 4 kitchens, and at one point, even short a banquet chef during the holiday months. Tom was a knife and cutting board chef. He would only go to the desk if he absolutely had to. We worked side by side, and formed a relationship that will last forever. There were times I would be bouncing from the a’la carte kitchen to the banquet kitchen to help plate up a party of 100 plus guests because he was over there by himself. He would never complain, he would just put his head down and get the job done. Keep in mind, even in the recession, we were still doing 1.5 million in banquet sales. I later replaced him, and after a year, I left to pursue the Bone Island Grill with my brother and sister. 3. What style of cooking or baking best portrays your passion? “I trained mostly French and Italian, so European techniques are my strongest. My passion lies in pairing foods. I love beer, and I love pairing foods with beer. I love wine dinners, and pairing wines with themed dinners. I think one of the best meals I have served was a seven- course meal all pairing wine with chocolate influenced foods. The entire meal was focused on wine and chocolate. Need I say more, what a night! “ 4. Do you have a food philosophy that drives your menu decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy? “Balance is the key to any menu. Balance in the products, balance in the preparations, balance in the stations. In the planning of the restaurant Bone Island Grill we wanted to design a concept restaurant that is replicable. We were going to develop a restaurant that one day might compete with the giants in the industry. We all share the feeling that chain restaurant food is lacking and has polluted the pallette of America. But the question remained. How did they get so big selling inferior products? Our thoughts were they had to be good at one point. So the foundation was laid that we would search for quality products, keep the cook in the restaurant (not in a factory somewhere), and keep the restaurant professionals making the decisions and not a group of investors. Here in lies the balance I speak of. Although I use some frozen products, I find the best ones that money can buy. Although we do have some convenience products, we are primarily a “scratch cooking” kitchen. When there is an opportunity to buy local, we buy local. We are a high volume operation. We have been open for 18 months now and have served over 120,000 guests. We are open 5 nights a week, dinner only. It is all about balance.”

5. Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said, yes, this is what I need to do. “Looking back I don’t know if it was a food experience that gave me that “epiphany.” I didn’t realize it at the time but I was the one who would eat anything. I have five brothers and two sisters, and my dad was a teacher. We didn’t have much growing up besides each other and we found entertainment in many forms. I remember sitting around the kitchen table with all my siblings watching me eat an entire can of sardines in one sitting, just to see if I would get sick. I loved sardines, and still do. (even after filleting about 80 pounds of them while in France at Chef Marc Meneau’s- L’Esperance) I was the kid that ate spinach and broccoli. I was the one who would tear into anything. I used to watch Great Chef’s Great Cities every day after school, and not once thought at the time that was the direction I was going. I feel I was meant for this, it’s in my blood, but I was very late to realize it. One moment stands out for me. It was after I won best of It was an acceptance that I could do something well. My history before cooking and even during the beginning was a kid with no direction and a really messed up set of priorities. That was the moment I knew this is who I am.” 6. What is your pet peeve about working in restaurants? “Short cuts! I am not a fan of short cuts. Now I have had to get creative in this new position that I am in. I’ll be the first to tell you I have never experienced the volume that we are doing now. And even when fully staffed in the peak of season I only have 4 full time cooks and 3 part time or seasonal cooks and just my sous chef has any formal training. I have had to scale back on some of my anal retentive procedures. But if you want to get my blood to boil, just start slapping things around carelessly, you will see my demon side. I tell my team “All good food starts with care.” If you give the burger the same care as the filet mignon, then they are equally delicious. We use all Certified Angus Beef products, and our ground beef is CAB natural. I don’t need to pile mushrooms and bacon on top to make it taste good. It already does, I just have to give it care, and try not to mess it up. (nothing against mushrooms and bacon, I love them both on a burger) I am also a stickler for cleanliness. Being a ServSafe instructor and proctor, I feel I have the added pressure to hold a 100% on every inspection. Truthfully, I see no reason why any restaurant kitchen would settle for anything less. Being a high volume restaurant, we have a great responsibility to our guests to assure them that their food is being handled properly and in a clean and healthy environment. We often have guests come into the kitchen, and I wouldn’t want them to see a sloppy facility.” 7. Who are your most valuable players in the restaurant where you currently work? “I spent many years in country clubs. I truly enjoyed the intimacy of serving a membership of guests. I left that life to pursue the Bone Island Grill to have a chance to work with my family. While all of our team members are really important to the whole, my brother and sister is my anchor. Any business is hard, especially a restaurant, but to share the day-to-day routine with family makes it great. We are oftentimes asked “how do you work with family?” The answer is easy: we all have different passions. Mine being food, where Ryan is a numbers guy, to the point I have titled him the “number nazi,” and Kara has a true passion for the guest and taking ownership of their experience. When the restaurant was at its original location, my sister Kara was hired on as a waitress. She had been a stay at home mother for years, but had restaurant management experience in her past. This was quickly recognized and she was promoted to general manager. When the idea of transferring the restaurant to the current property, and developing a concept focused on the guest, she sought out my brother Ryan who had been a managing partner with a corporate restaurant. Later, they came to me. Together, with the help of many others, we laid a foundation based on three values.
Purpose- Know your purpose, every job is important
Passion- Have passion for your purpose, take ownership
Pride- Take that pride from having a job to pride in being part of something B.I.G. Understand your purpose, have passion for it, and take pride in it.

Three little words that guide us in every decision we make. “ 8. If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks and bakers looking to make their mark in kitchens, what would you tell them? “Your education starts after school. I often regret the rush I was in to gain the title Executive Chef. Such a rush, that when I did get it, I didn’t know what to do with it, or how to be it. Decide early what direction in the culinary field you want to go, and map out the course to get there. Set goals, and work your butt off to reach them.” 9. When you hire people to work in your kitchen what traits are you looking for? “Work ethic and loyalty. In the small town that our restaurant is in, there are about six other restaurants, three country clubs, (one having three properties and five different courses) a Ritz Carlton Hotel, and a couple other food related job opportunities. With a limited field of experienced employees and even smaller number of formally trained cooks in the area it very challenging to build the right team. However, work ethic is the base of every good team member. With solid training, and clear understanding of expectations, work ethic can turn a 19 -year old fry cook at a bowling alley into my sauté cook and someone I leave in charge when I am not there to see that the kitchen is cleaned properly. I say loyalty in a manner not concerning the amount of time an individual was at a job, though it is a key factor, but more on how they plan to leave their current position. I will not hire anyone who will not serve out a notice. In fact, I’ll even get up from the interview if they say they don’t need to give notice. This has burned me several times. I have had cooks show up for their shift with uniforms in their hands, saying they are getting 25 cents more and hour. Let’s do the math, if you get .25 more an hour for a forty- hour work-week, which is $10. After taxes, that financial gain equates to $6.00 per week. Is that six extra dollars’ worth burning a bridge and a reference by not serving out your notice? I just don’t get it. I do look for individuals who want to pursue a career in cooking. I offer to buy textbooks for cooks who express an interests in learning. I quiz them on their reading, and how it correlates to what we are doing at the restaurant. I follow up with references seeking information about honesty and passion. I share with them our core values and look for their response, but the traits that have served me well in the past and present are work ethic and loyalty.”

10. If you were not cooking or baking, what would you choose to do for a career? “I have always had a passion for music. Back in high school and college there were not many times you’d see me out of class when I didn’t have my guitar in hand. I even sang a few originals at the open mic nights at PSC. I haven’t played much lately, but I agree with Thomas Keller, music is a very important ingredient.” 11. What would you like people to know about your current restaurant and the food that you produce? “We are a family restaurant, owned by family and run by family. The Bone Island Grill is located in lake country central Georgia on beautiful Lake Oconee, a little over an hour southeast of Atlanta. Our philosophy at Bone Island Grill is that it’s all about the experience. During peak summer season, guests are entertained thru lengthy waits with our one acre lakefront yard where kids can play and adults can enjoy a cocktail while sitting by the lake. Once inside to dine the great experience continues with our service team, voted friendliest wait staff by our guests in Lake Oconee Living’s Best of 2012. Guests are served our signature house salad family style while their meals are being cooked to order. Our food is cooked from scratch with our guests in mind. The art is in the flavor, although presentation and delivery are equally important.”

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I had the pleasure of working with Chef Jody while he was a student of mine, as a member of our Student Culinary Team and as an intern participating in a French program. He continues to impress me with his talent and passionate approach towards cooking, serving the guest and operating a successful business. He had asked me for advice a while back on how to convince kitchen staff to “sweat the small stuff” and do things not only right, but at the highest level of excellence. I have wrestled with how to approach this, so here is my attempt at an answer.

Everyone is different. As much as we would love to have staff members share our passion and commitment, it is our passion and commitment and not always theirs. Some people will never see what you see, nor will they ever understand the “no compromise” approach that Chef s Tim McQuinn and Tony Maws refer to. This is the reality that every chef and restaurateur must deal with giving more and more credence to the hiring process, the support that you provide those who do “get it”, the on-going training that great restaurants provide, and the way that we reward excellence.

Many will say, “sounds great, but I can never find enough of those unique individuals, so how do I get the job done correctly?” There are really only two ways that I know of:

• You can insist upon it, drill it in, constantly monitor and correct employees, and second-guess their every step. The problem with this approach is that it is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. This is what drives some chefs to act like tyrants, yell and criticize and try to manage through fear. From my perspective, in the long-run, it doesn’t work for anyone.
• You can build your core leadership team comprised of those individuals who share your passion and commitment (sous chef, pastry chef, banquet chef, dining room manager), communicate constantly and teach the team to be teachers. Employees oftentimes do not get it because they simply do not know, nor have they had the experiences that you have had that drive your passion. Every moment in the kitchen, through your leadership team, is a teaching moment; a chance to create those “aha” opportunities for staff members to build their understanding. Make sure that every task assigned includes showing them how it impacts on the final dish in terms of appearance, texture and taste. They need to see that their attention to knife skills (as an example), does make a big difference in how the dish turns out, how the guest perceives it, and what you can charge. Give them some opportunity to make mistakes, show them why it is wrong, how to correct it, and walk through the process with them. Make sure you differentiate between those who simply do not know the how and why with those who do not care. Work with those who do not know, and quickly show those who do not care – the door.

A great quote that would benefit all employees is: “If you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do it over?” Instill in your staff the understanding that it must be done right, show them how to do it, explain why, and compliment them when it is done correctly. Build pride within those who want to learn and you will see positive results.

For more information about Bone Island Grill, visit their website at:

wwww.boneislandgrill.us

EAMON LEE – A CHEF WHO INFLUENCES HUNDREDS OF OTHERS

EAMON LEE - A CHEF WHO INFLUENCES HUNDREDS OF OTHERS

There is a distinct difference between those who work in kitchens and those who choose to pursue a life-long career in food. Chefs tend to move in a variety of directions with their careers but typically all start out with the demands of prep and line work. Where they go from there will oftentimes depend on not just opportunity but where they feel they can have the greatest impact.

One of my favorite kitchen quotes came from Wolfgang Puck when he was asked by a reporter to describe why he was so successful in the food business. He said: “I buy the best raw materials and try not to screw them up”. This understanding of the source and the importance of the ingredient is a religion to many chefs and one of the most significant marketing tactics used by restaurants today. It goes beyond farm to plate and delves into a deeper understanding of quality, seasonality, carbon footprint, packaging, product maturity, understanding flavor profiles, handling and storage of ingredients, and how the ingredients fit with the concept of the restaurant. To this end, it is not just the chef who must take on the responsibility for understanding ingredients; it is of consummate importance that the distributor have an even greater understanding. The distributor, if competent, can help to educate the chef and the restaurateur and become their best friend and greatest contributor to restaurant success.

Over the years I have seen former students of mine move from the kitchen line to positions as executive chef, restaurateur, research chef, banquet chef, food writer and equipment rep. In a few cases, some of my more exceptional graduates have chosen a track that involves distribution. One such chef is Eamon Lee, CEC.

Eamon is currently the Corporate Chef for Maines Paper and Foodservice that distributes a full line of product and equipment out of Binghamton to New York and Pennsylvania. Chef Lee who is certified as an executive chef by the American Culinary Federation has agreed to the following interview that delves into his background, what drives him and his outlook for young aspiring cooks and chefs.

1. What or who influenced you to pursue a career in the kitchen?

“I worked at a high-end, on premise catering facility as a teenager and one night the chef could not make it into work. At 16 years old, I was the only one in the kitchen who could execute the wedding reception menu that evening. After the party, the newlyweds came into the kitchen and asked to see the chef. I said that the chef was gone and that I had prepared the meal. They looked at me in shock, gathered themselves, and stated it was the best meal they had ever had and that they would never forget it. I knew at that very moment I wanted to be a chef. “

2. What style of cooking best portrays your passion?

“Thoughtful, simple, seasonal, ingredient based American regional, with a farm to table feel. Basically, what they’ve been doing in Europe for 500 years.
3. Do you have a food philosophy that drives your menu decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?

“I usually ask myself these questions in this general order;

Create the palette-
*Where am I, and what is the “terroir?”
*What’s in season?
*Of these seasonal ingredients, which are the best for which I have to travel the least amount of distance to acquire?
*What staple ingredients does this particular “terroir” produce particularly well?

Identify the customer’s needs-
*Who am I feeding?
*What is the occasion?
*What is the level of formality?
*What is the importance of the food relative to the occasion?
*Are there any special dietary needs?

Choose the canvas-
*Where will they be eating?
*In what manner will they be eating? Family style, sit-down, buffet, etc…
*How will they be served?

Once this information is gathered, the menus write themselves. My job, as a chef, is to meet the customer’s needs (exceed them if the onus is on the food,) treat the ingredients with respect and dignity, and prepare a meal that dovetails perfectly with the needs of the customer, where and when they are eating it, and why. As a chef, humility is the most important ingredient I can bring to the kitchen, lest my needs supersede those of the customer’s and the potential of the ingredients. “

4. What is your pet peeve about working in restaurants?

“Missing family events and holidays.”

5. Who are your most valuable players in the restaurant where you currently work?

“In my last job as chef, the MVP’s were the people on my staff who “got it,” or, those who understood my answer to question #3. In a few words, or maybe even a look or gesture, they understood an entire philosophy or vision. Communication with MVP’s is effortless.”

6. If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks looking to make their mark in kitchens, what would you tell them?

“The same thing Jacques Pepin told me; essentially, cooking is a craft that needs to be mastered before in can be elevated to an art. Hone your craft, seek out masters, and do what they do. Rinse and repeat. After 10 years of this your own style may begin to develop. Then, and only then, will you be able to even think about making a mark.”

7. When you hire people to work in your kitchen what traits are you looking for?

“I look for an honest, open-minded and willing attitude and a dedication to the craft. A really, really strong work ethic helps too.

8. If you were not cooking, what would you choose to do for a career?

“Fine furniture making or a fly-fishing resort manager”.

9. What would you like people to know about your current restaurant and the food that you produce?

“I don’t work in a restaurant anymore, but in my current position I consult hundreds of restaurants throughout upstate New York. I try to be the chef some of them never had, or the source of inspiration they’ve never had. Instead of having one crew to inspire and manage, today, I have hundreds of crews. The food they all produce, in a small and sometimes-large measure, springs forth from the philosophy I described above. “
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I have followed Eamon and his career since he finished a culinary degree at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondack’s of New York. He was one of those exceptionally talented students with a high level of confidence and the skills to back it up. Eamon was selected to represent his college as a member of the student culinary team that competed in Boston, MA. I will always remember this team with a special fondness because they were the first and only student team to win the New England Culinary Olympic Team cup for first place at that competition. Chef Lee is having an impact on the quality of food prepared at every restaurant that Maine’s touches. He is a true professional with an unwavering dedication to his craft.

For more information about Maines Paper and Foodservice, visit their website at:

http://www.maines.net

A WOMAN CHEF PREPARING TO MAKE HER MARK ON CENTRAL NEW YORK

A WOMAN CHEF PREPARING TO MAKE HER MARK ON CENTRAL NEW YORK

Creating a restaurant is a labor of love, a total commitment of time, energy, intellect, emotion, and passion. Unless you live this existence it is difficult to comprehend what it takes to make great food and serve the discriminating palates of a restaurant’s guests. One of the only fields that I would consider comparable is the life of a farmer. It was Dr. Scholl who said the keys to professional success are: “early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise”. This is the life of the farmer and the chef/restaurateur.

What is most interesting is that deep down, the farmer and the chef love what they do; not every day, not every moment, but overall it is passion and genetic work ethic that drives their personal engines.

As a chef by trade, I had always said that I would hire a farmer to work in my restaurants any day. Farmers know hard work and dedication, they are skilled and passionate and extremely dependable: they have to be.

What if you were to find a chef/restaurateur who grew up as part of a farm family and this person was accustomed to being up way before sunrise to milk cows, tend to daily farm chores and spend her summers mowing hay for winter forage. Well, such a person exists – her name is Rebekah Alford, chef/restaurateur at Rainbow Shores on Lake Ontario in Pulaski, New York.

In partnership with her mom, Renee, they operate this terrific restaurant offering beautifully prepared, highly flavorful, contemporary American cuisine just 100 feet from the shores of Lake Ontario. Mom, by the way, still works with Rebekah’s father and family operating their dairy farm in Central, New York. They milk 1,700 cows, three times every day.

Rebekah refers to her youth as: “the best of times and the worst of times”. The lifestyle made her teenage years different and challenging, but as she beams: “the experience made me the person I am today. Growing up on a farm helped me to understand the value of hard work.” Renee added: “it is hard to be passionate about a paycheck, but easy to become passionate about a hard earned dollar”. Rebekah’s entrepreneurial spirit is drawn from this reality.

Chef Rebekah attended Paul Smith’s College for culinary arts and later worked at the 4-Diamond Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa, the Relais and Chateaux Lake Placid Lodge as well other exceptional properties in Lake Placid, NY, before taking on the Rainbow Shores Project (now in their fourth year) with her mother and father.

Where her family finds the time to support this endeavor is beyond me. Their dairy farm encompasses 4,000 acres, a 2,800 head herd (1,700 are milked daily), producing 45 million pounds of milk each year (that’s right, I said 45 million). The farm grew from 43 cows to 1,700 milkers’ over the past couple of decades demonstrating the entrepreneurial spirit that Rebekah obviously inherited.

The kitchen at Rainbow Shores is brand new (a chef’s dream), the food is quite remarkable using the freshest ingredients, and the view is postcard perfect. The dirt road off of Route 3 that leads to the restaurant is deceiving. When the end of the road opens up for the restaurant, you find yourself stopping to breathe in the view that owns every guest the moment they arrive. Sunsets are hard to describe.

Rebekah lives by a Food Philosophy that drives all of her menu decisions and sums up her belief structure:

Food Philosophy for Rainbow Shores
__________________________________

It is our belief that food is more than sustenance and dining is more than simply eating. We are committed to starting with the finest, freshest, high quality ingredients; caring for these ingredients through proper cooking techniques and seasoning them to draw out exceptional, unique and memorable flavors.

The plate is our canvas and attention will always be paid to ensuring that the painting on this canvas reflects our passion for great food. Balance will always be achieved through complementary and equally passionate selection and preparation of wines, beers and unique cocktails that pair with our menu.

We believe in creating value and the complete dining experience framed by one of the most spectacular vistas on Lake Ontario and to serve our guests with the hospitality of family. This restaurant is our life calling and our staff are our ambassadors with guest satisfaction as their primary responsibility.

Rainbow Shores
Exceptional Dining on the Shores of Lake Ontario
_____________________________

I believe that this talented woman chef (oh, did I mention she has a son to raise as well) is destined to leave her mark on the Central New York Restaurant scene. Some chef’s talk about building relations with farmers, her relations with farmers are in her DNA.

In 2014, Chef Rebekah will offer culinary internships for a few select, dedicated students of regional culinary arts colleges. Those interested in working at Rainbow Shores can contact Chef Rebekah through the restaurant.

For more information, view their website or Facebook page at:

http://www.lakeontariovacations.com

http://www.facebook.com/rainbow.shores

For reservations, call: 315-298-5110

Rainbow Shores does close for the season after New Year’s Day 2014 and will reopen in the Spring of 2014.

THE COMPLEXITY OF BEING A RESORT CHEF – Chef Phil Flath Interview

THE COMPLEXITY OF BEING A RESORT CHEF – Chef Phil Flath Interview

One of the most interesting aspects of analyzing what it takes to be a professional chef lies in the uniqueness of each operation. Each chef has his or her own set of challenges and opportunities that would lead one to quickly understand that not every chef “fits” in every operation. Certain chefs are geared towards fine dining, others find a comfortable home in banquet houses or high volume family style restaurants. Clubs, resorts and convention hotels may provide some of the most interesting challenges for chef managers due to the complexity of facilitating such a broad variety of outlets and unique food requirements.

On any given day, a resort, club or convention hotel chef might find it necessary to address dozens of banquet meals, coffee hours, cocktail receptions, tastings for anxious wedding planners, and the ongoing operation of multiple venues from a breakfast restaurant to family style dining; from a fine dining outlet to special wine dinners and the never ending onslaught of room service orders. It is a jigsaw puzzle that demands that a chef spend the vast majority of his or her seventy hour work week in meetings, constantly changing staff schedules, designing custom menus, interacting with clients looking for guidance in arranging menus for their groups, insuring that enough of the right product is in house, staying on top of equipment maintenance, and staying in tune with a looming budget that requires constant monitoring of all associated costs. Time spent cooking is often times rare and always treasured. The chefs job to is to set the stage for the kitchen staff to execute food production at a consistently high level of quality.

Phillip Flath is the Executive Chef at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club in Brewster, Massachusetts. He has agreed to an interview that sheds some light on his responsibilities, his career track, offer some words of advice for young culinarians and open the door to understanding what drives him on a daily basis.

What or who influenced you to pursue a career in the kitchen?

“I would have to say that my first job in a small restaurant in Saranac Lake, NY provided me with the opportunity to pursue a career that I had no idea existed. I was a dishwasher as a 16 year-old kid trying to make a few bucks for gas for my car. One night, the owner asked me to go work in the kitchen as one of the cooks called out. I was completely lost, he gave me the confidence to just listen to the other cooks and follow orders. Basically, I was a puppet for the evening, a set of hands being moved by another cook. I never washed another dish in that restaurant. I continued to learn basic aspects of cooking giving me an avenue to pursue an education at Paul Smith’s College (my hometown) and eventually a career as a Chef.”

Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career?

“ I would say that Paul Sorgule has been the biggest mentor and supporter in my career as a chef. His knowledge, passion, experience, and sense of humor are all traits that I have tried to emulate through my growth and experience as a chef. Getting to know him personally and building a friendship is something that I treasure each day I come to work.”

“I would also like to mention the team of chef educators who taught at Paul Smith’s College who were also very influential. They made learning the technical side of this business fun and exciting – Chefs John McBride, Dave Gotzmer, Curtiss Hemm, and Bob Brown to mention a few…”

What style of cooking best portrays your passion?

“Growing up in the Northeast and working in Boston for 10 years and now on Cape Cod for the last 6 years, I feel that autumn is the best for cooking. The slow cooking methods of braising and roasting, the wonderful root vegetables that can transform flavors depending on how you cook them and the hearty harvest of truly “new” potatoes makes for a wonderful meal, not to mention the wide variety of apples that can be utilized for any style of dessert.

Since I have had the opportunity to travel for recruiting my culinary intern team each year, I have found a strong passion for the street tacos and authentic food of Mexico; both Mexico City and Puebla, the “Culinary Capital” of Mexico.”

Do you have a food philosophy that drives your menu decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?

“With multiple outlets, menus vary. There are different food styles and customer bases which dictate how each menu is created. However, we utilize the freshest ingredients, make almost everything from scratch and stay current with culinary trends in each restaurant.”

Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said, yes, this is what I need to do.

“I would have to say that the two weeks spent in France in the Summer of 1991 sent me well on my way to understanding what it would take to become successful, a challenge that I was ready for. A few notes regarding that period of time stick out in my mind:
*A 10 course luncheon with Marc Meneau at the Three-Star restaurant: L’Esperance – a Life Changing Meal, not to mention how clean and organized the kitchen was

*Cooking with Paul and Sharon Sorgule and my Mom for the dignitaries of Entrains, France

*The dinner at a chateau – I ate escargot for the first time and I believe we closed the place – the kitchen looked like every other kitchen – used, but not abused
*Eating fresh baguettes and charcuterie in the car traveling through Burgundy visiting various wineries from Daniel Chotard in Sancerre to Pascal Jolivet in Poulliy.

*As a young American kid, having Coca-Cola served to me at breakfast with fresh croissants and Danish pastries

*This trip and all of the associated experiences gave me insight to many of the different aspects, challenges, and rewards of a career in restaurants.”

What is your pet peeve about working in restaurants?

“I’m not sure I have a pet peeve about working in restaurants; I have pet peeves about individuals that may work in restaurants. People that don’t have the respect for the business, passion for our guests or each other, desire to be the best all of the time, want to work hard, or be part of a team are things that bother me.”

Who are your most valuable players in the restaurant where you currently work?

“In this environment, my most valuable players are my sous chefs. With five different restaurants and banquet operations that are spread over 429 acres, I have to trust and rely on my sous chefs to carry my message to the team while delivering a consistent food product. This team of eight is essential to making sure each restaurant service and banquet function is executed with excellence by providing the necessary knowledge and tools to their immediate staff.

Two other positions that are critical in any hotel/resort environment: breakfast cook(s) – life is so much better if there is a solid breakfast cook that is reliable, fast, and efficient.

Stewards – They make all of us look better. An efficient team that works hard to clean up after us and take care of moving equipment all around allows me to focus on all aspects of cooking and presentation.”

If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks looking to make their mark in kitchens, what would you tell them?

“I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with young cooks each season as I employ 20-25 culinary interns from across the globe; Mexico, Philippines, Ireland, Chicago ILL, Providence RI, and Burlington VT, to name a few. There are two messages that I tell each “student:
1. Speak Up and make yourself known – your work ethic and habits, efficiency will only get you so far; you need to get the chef’s attention and show him/her what you have created and how it was prepared and be persistent in asking them to taste it. You also want to get face time with the chef to talk food, life, or just chat.
2. Have Fun – this is a grueling business with a lot of hours spent in the kitchen away from family and friends; make the best of it. If you can’t laugh through many of the challenges faced each day, the stress will overwhelm you.”

When you hire people to work in your kitchen what traits are you looking for.

“I look for individuals who are passionate, have a strong desire to work for me, act intelligent, are reasonable, have a sense of humor, and a knack for creativity. I believe that one doesn’t have to possess the strongest technical skills as long as they have these other traits.”

If you were not cooking, what would you choose to do for a career?

“If I had not chosen to be a chef, I would have pursued my childhood dream of becoming a pilot. I am fascinated with flying, airplanes, and the freedom goes with it.”

What would you like people to know about your current restaurant and the food that you produce?

“Ocean Edge Resort and Golf Club, Brewster, MA is host to multiple restaurants that are open to the public, not just our Club Members or Resort Guests. Our website contains sample menus and current hours of operation for each restaurant. This is a great spot for destination weddings. I offer a take on New England cuisine throughout the resort, whether in our restaurants or as part of banquets and other special events. “

___________________________________________________

I had the privilege of working with Chef Flath while he pursed a culinary education at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. During his time in the program Phil was selected as a member of our student culinary team competing in Boston. After graduation, Chef Flath continued his education at Elmira College where he earned a baccalaureate in business and a master’s degree in adult education. I have admired him since he was a teenager and have followed his career with great pride. Throughout his time in the food industry he has been able to earn the respect of his employees, peers, supervisors and guests. Without exception he has been able to balance the strength of leadership with the temperament of a perfect gentleman.

For those who are interested in learning more about The Ocean Edge Resort and Golf Club, visit their website at:

http://www.oceanedge.com

THE COMPLETE CHEF

THE COMPLETE CHEF

The restaurant industry in the United States is enormous with 2012 sales in excess of $450 billion. There are, among the 960,000 plus operations, varying degrees of quality and commitment to excellence. There are those that disappoint, many that meet guest expectations and a chosen few that consistently exceed expectations and make those of us who choose a career in cooking, proud to be part of a club that includes those few.

Without exception, those restaurants that exceed expectations are led by a chef who is passionate, extremely confident, creative and talented. One such restaurant is Café Boulud in New York City. As part of the Dinex Group of world-­‐renown restaurants led by Chef Daniel Boulud, this café holds the unique position of both an extraordinary fine dining destination and a neighborhood iconic spot to enjoy wonderful food and drink. At the helm of this truly great restaurant is a chef, and friend, Gavin Kaysen.

Chef Gavin agreed to the interview that follows, a brief summary of what makes him tick and how he is able to maintain his passion for cooking.

[] What or who influenced you to pursue a career in the kitchen?

“Many people have influenced my career, but my Grandmother was the first person I ever stepped into a kitchen with. She helped me understand what hospitality meant and how easy it can be to make people happy by breaking bread with them. “
[] Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career in food?

“George Serra was my first ever mentor, I met him in Minnesota when I was 16 years old, and he took me under his wing. He showed me what it meant to have passion in this industry and how to translate that to the guest, your fellow chefs and the people grinding it out everyday with you. From there, I have to say that Daniel Boulud has been my other mentor in many ways. He has taken me from a cook to a chef; he has guided me through how to run a restaurant to now running three for him. He has taught me the importance of a team and just how to build one. He has taught me the true meaning of hospitality and it is not just about the guest, and they’re dining experience, but rather about their entire experience with you, both in the restaurant an beyond. “
[] What style of cooking best portrays your passion?

“I cook French – American food…. I have been rooted in classic cooking my entire career, since the age of 16 (I am 34 now), but I am from MN, so I am as American as they come, for that reason, I love to see wild rice on my menu, and food that reminds me of my childhood growing up in the Midwest.”
[] Do you have a food philosophy that drives your menu decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?

“My philosophy on the menu is rather simple, I look at the season, I listen to my guests and I create the menu with my entire sous chef team. I think it is important to listen to the guest and see what it is that they want on the menu as well. We have a large amount of people who eat at Café Boulud 3 plus times per week, we want to give them variety, while maintaining the standards.”
[] Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said, “yes, this is what I need to do”.

“I can tell you the first time I ever had a real fine dining meal…before this, to me fine dining was the Red Lobster down the street or Steak & Ale in MN. I went to Napa Valley to do my externship for school; I was 21 years old and moved into a house with 9 roommates. One of them worked at this restaurant down the street called The French Laundry. She asked if I had ever been, I of course said no, and asked if I could come in with my parents the next day for lunch. She got us in and we sat next to the kitchen, long before their renovation. I had a meal that I will never forget, not because of the food, but the setting and how they made me feel…even though I had no clue what Foie Gras was, they didn’t judge, care of show it at the least. They saw I was excited, got to know me and learned I cooked for a living; they invited me to the kitchen to meet the chef…Thomas Keller. I should have known who he was, but I didn’t, I just knew that he was someone who created a memory for me that will last a lifetime. Now, Chef Keller is a friend and someone I work and talk with on a daily basis. It is full circle and incredible how simple food can bring people together. “
[] Who are your “most valuable players” in Café Boulud?

“Everyone, from the porters to my GM…. I value them all and owe everything we do to them, they would walk through a wall for me and I would do the same for them in a heartbeat. “
[] If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks looking to make their mark in kitchens, what would you tell them?

“Be patient; understand that cooking does not have an age limit. I know there are many awards to be won, and you have to be under a certain age…. I have won them…. while they are important and great milestones, they will not get you want you want any faster. You have to work for it, prepare yourself for success, and ask questions. If you strain the sauce 6 times, ask why, don’t just do it…. get to know the meaning of what you do every day, it will give you a new light on how to cook.”
[] When you hire people to work in your kitchen what traits are you looking for?

“I am looking for commitment; I am looking for genuine curiosity and strength. I want them to be strong enough to let us teach them, even if they think they know it, I want them to learn a new way, and ask why.”
[] If you were not cooking, what would you choose to do for a career?

“I am not good at music, but I love it, and would love to have been in that industry somehow.”
[] What would you like people to know about your current restaurant and the food that you produce?

“Café Boulud is a restaurant that was built in 1900 in Lyon, France. It has been transformed to fit the UES on Manhattan, Café Boulud has become an Upper East Side staple, whose menu is inspired by Daniel Boulud’ s four culinary muses: la tradition, classic French cuisine; la saison, seasonal delicacies; le potager, the vegetable garden; and le voyage, flavors of world cuisines. Having earned three stars in the New York Times as well as a star in the Michelin Guide, Café Boulud is both a destination and a neighborhood gem for casually elegant dining, seasonal wine tasting dinners, Sunday brunch and two salons for intimate, private events. The restaurant’ s adjacent Bar Pleiades serves some of the neighborhoods finest cocktails and is perfect for a group gathering or intimate get together.”

Chef Gavin Kaysen graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. Prior to accepting his position at Café Boulud he worked at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, California; l”Auberge de Lavaux in Switzerland; l’Escargot in London with the notorious Chef Marco Pierre White; and Bizcocho in San Diego. Kaysen represented the United States at the Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France and in 2007 was named by Food and Wine Magazine as one of the “10 Best New Chefs”. In 2008 he was additionally recognized by StarChefs.com and The James Beard Foundation as a “Rising Star Chef”. In 2009 Chef Kaysen successfully beat Chef Michael Symon on Iron Chef America and competed till the final round of “Chopped All-Stars” seeking to raise money for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.

Gavin lives in New York City with his wife and two sons. If you are EVER in New York and are seeking an extraordinary dining experience, make sure to book a reservation at Café Boulud.

Visit Chef Gavin’s personal website and that of Café Boulud for more details.

http://www.gavinkaysen.com

http://www.cafeboulud.com/nyc/

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